One of the first times Ginger Soave baked a wedding cake, it fell over—right before the wedding. It was an experience she will never forget.
A neighbor insisted that Ginger create her son’s wedding cake because Ginger’s cakes were both delicious and affordable. Although the bride was reluctant, she finally agreed. Ginger took the cake to the reception area five hours early, and knowing it was wobbly, she emphasized more than once that the cake should not move from its designated spot. After being assured by the event staff they would not touch the cake, Ginger received a phone call hours later informing her that her cake had been relocated and had fallen. She did not decorate another cake for the next ten years.
Today, Ginger is a professional cake decorator and businesswoman who crafts all sorts of cakes. She’s among many women locally who are skilled cake designers. Each has experienced problem cakes like Ginger’s—challenges that make them want to give up baking forever. But cake decorating is their passion, and the thrill of creating the perfect cake keeps them coming back for more.
STARTING FROM SCRATCH
Cake decorating was not Ginger Soave’s first career choice. In fact, she was the worst student in her class. Her cake decorating journey began in 1993, when she married her husband, Tony. The idea to become a baker popped into her mind when she glimpsed her wedding cake.
“I thought to myself, ‘Hey, I can do that!’” Ginger said, “but I had no experience, so I decided to take some classes.”
After returning from her honeymoon, she signed up for her first cake decorating class with Wilton, a national company that offers local cake decorating courses. Like many beginners, her skills were pretty average. Buttercream roses were a huge challenge for her, and after many futile attempts, she asked the class instructor to make her roses so she could pass to the next level.
Ginger was so determined that she went home every night and worked on her technique. After she and Tony started a family, however, Ginger took a break from cake decorating courses to raise her two children, Hollie and Adam.
In time she felt the urge to pursue a full-time career in the cake industry. A previous aerobics instructor, she realized that she would make a great teacher. She landed a teaching job at a small kitchen store and knew that she had found what she was meant to do.
“Although I love to bake and decorate, my career quickly became about teaching and sharing my craft,” Ginger said with an excited smile. “I like the socializing aspect of it all.” Today, Ginger teaches cake decorating classes at Wine and Cake Hobbies in Norfolk and Party Cakes ‘N Things in Virginia Beach.
“I still get nervous when I teach,” Ginger said, “but people would never know it. I always have this fear that someone will not have fun in one of my classes, but so far, I don’t think that has happened.”
She believes that her greatest strength is the ability to teach others the craft that gives her such enjoyment. Her advice to aspiring decorators? Jump in feet first and never look back.
Aside from teaching, Ginger runs her own cake decorating business called The Icing on the Cake and specializes in creating 3-D cakes. She loves creating specialized cakes because she gets to show her creative flair. She has created remarkable cakes shaped like purses, zombie heads, and six-packs of beer. Everyone says her cakes look shockingly realistic.
“Who would have thought in a million years that I would end up doing this?” Ginger asked. “My business keeps growing and growing. I just love what I do.” She’s won several awards, including first place and a blue ribbon in the 2009 Neptune Festival Cake Competition for a cake that resembled a wine crate.
“A beautiful cake is one that is neat with clean lines, It doesn’t have to be too dramatic,” Ginger said. “The perfect cake is one that is personalized. It happens when someone can look at a cake and say, ‘Oh my God, that’s me!’ I love providing people with that experience.”
To keep her skills current, she not only teaches, but also takes classes from award-winning decorators at local cake shows each year. She has recently worked alongside Michelle Bommarito from The Food Network and Melissa Payne from the show Next Great Baker.
“TV shows have definitely helped boost my business,” Ginger said. “Everyone wants to decorate now because it’s become so popular, but it’s not easy.”
In the future, Ginger aspires to either own her own specialty cake shop or perhaps travel and teach. No matter what she does, her cakes will continue to surprise and delight.
C.C. Martinez, owner of SilverSpoon Bakery & Gourmet Gifts in Portsmouth, says her shop is one of the city’s “best kept secrets.”
For as long as she can remember, C.C. has had a passion for baking. In early childhood, she fell in love with her Easy Bake Oven. She sold her first wedding cake in middle school. In high school, she worked as a baker at Food Lion, gaining valuable professional experience.
“Some women hide their shoes around the house. I was hiding cake pans and recipe books,” C.C. joked. “It’s always been fascinating to me that if you tweak some ingredients just a little, you will get a completely different product.”
A close friend convinced her to consider opening her own cake shop, and eight years ago, she opened the doors of SilverSpoon Bakery. It was initially intended to be a custom cake shop, but three days after her grand opening, she entered a cookie baking contest with The Virginian-Pilot and won. Suddenly, people flooded to her store looking for cookies. That is when her shop made the transition from custom cake shop to bakery. Although she still sells mostly decorative cakes, she also offers cookies and cupcakes.
Although her store is versatile, her passion continues to be creating the perfect custom wedding cake. She would prefer to make one extravagant wedding cake than 100 cupcakes. Her favorites are stacked cakes because she can block out the world and focus simply on her craft. She finds the process of building and structuring very relaxing.
“It is the reactions from customers that give me the drive to do this,” C.C. said. “The passion doesn’t come from the long nights or the heavy bags of flour or the hours of paperwork. People trust me to be a big part of their personal events. That outweighs all the hard work and makes this so rewarding.”
C.C. has always had a passion for food and appreciates the opportunity to channel that passion through cake decorating. “I associate everything with food,” she said. “Inspiration is everywhere. Some musicians say they can see music. Well, I can see ideas in everything. Patterns, decorative ideas—they are just hiding in everyday life.”
C.C. prides herself on the high quality of standards she and her staff maintain at SilverSpoon Bakery. According to her, the quality of customer service is what keeps people coming back. Her customers are welcome to help design cakes she makes for them.
One of her most memorable cakes was a tie-dyed wedding cake for a bride with a vintage-themed wedding. On the outside, the cake looked elegant, classic, and traditional. But when the bride and groom cut into the cake, the inside was full of vibrant, swirled colors, surprising guests. She recalls the cake as being very fun to make, allowing her to express her creativity and talent.
“Sometimes you can be your biggest challenge,” C.C. said. “We are our own worst critics. With me, I know I want to please everybody all the time. It is often difficult to separate work from my personal life because I’m so involved in what I do.”
Her dedication is reflected in the numerous awards SilverSpoon has won over the years, including 2009 Retail Alliance’s Retailer of the Year and The Best of Hampton Roads since 2011. When not creating wedding cakes and running her business, C.C. enjoys spending time with her three sons.
A FAMILY AFFAIR
Sandra Daggett, secretary of The Cake Decorators of Tidewater, has been decorating cakes for 22 years. After more than two decades, she still gets excited because there is always something new to learn.
She was introduced to the art of baking and creating cakes at a young age. During childhood, her mother owned a catering business in Colorado. Sandra took classes at Wilton to define her personal, artistic talent. In early adulthood, she took over the family business. By making three to four wedding cakes per weekend, she paid for college without the assistance of any grants or loans.
”I have come to love this industry,” Sandra said. “I love the people I meet. It’s always something new and interesting.”
Today, Sandra lives in Suffolk and makes cakes out of her home. Cake decorating is her biggest hobby and a main source of passion in her life. She enjoys her role as secretary of the Cake Decorators of Tidewater, a group for anyone in the cake community—from hobbyists to store owners. They meet once per month and host a cake show each fall, where local and national sugar artists display their talent. Sandra was the winner of the 2012 show’s cake decorating competition.
This year marks the show’s 28th anniversary. It will be held September 28-29 at the Holiday Inn Hotel and Conference Center on Greenwich Road in Virginia Beach. The show is open to the public, and people of all ages and walks of life are encouraged to attend. Members of the club will teach classes and workshops designed to improve specific aspects of decorating techniques. Proceeds will support the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation.
“We are all just a big family here,” Sandra said of the club. “We are a little crazy, but fun! We truly love to do this, and I think it shows.”
Now Sandra has a family of her own and enjoys passing her talents on to her children. Her son, Gabriel, is 10, and her daughter, Johanna, is 7. They are both as active in the cake decorating community as their mother.
At last year’s Cake Decorators show Gabriel performed oriental stringwork for the icing on his cake and talked to visitors about the technique, which he learned from his mother. At this year’s cake show, Sandra will be teaching a class on oriental stringwork for adults and another class on basic techniques for children. Most places do not offer classes for those under 14.
“I’m all about teaching our children,” Sandra said. “Someone needs to take initiative to do it. Sharing with my kids is the best part. I see the light shining in their eyes when they don’t get it at first, and then they do. It’s like a light bulb going off, and it’s the best feeling. I love watching the next generation really put themselves out there.”
Sandra has considered opening her own shop in the future, but for now, she keeps her skills fresh by baking for friends. She’s quite happy to spend quality time at home with her husband and children, including the newest member of the family, Katrina, who was born in June.
Bringing joy to their clients is what motivates Ginger, C.C., and Sandra to continue creating cakes that are works of art. They agree that cake decorating requires passion, dedication, and hard work. But the rewards are entirely worth it. n
For more information about the upcoming cake show on Sept. 28-29 at the Holiday Inn Hotel and Conference Center, visit www.cdotcakeshow.org. Also check out:
• C.C.’s website: www.silverspoonva.com
• Ginger’s website: www.theicingonthecake-ginger.com